Recently at White Fields I have been teaching a series on the Parables of Jesus and this past Sunday we looked at the two parables of the Two Debtors in Luke 7:36-50 and Matthew 18:23-35. (Click here to listen to the audio of that message)
Both of these parables deal with the topic of forgiveness; the first is focused on how God’s forgiveness of us affects how we relate to God, the second is about how God’s forgiveness of us affects how we relate to others.
The second parable is about a man who owes a massive debt to the king: 10,000 Talents.
A talent was a measurement of money which was equivalent to 20 years wages for a laborer. You can do the math: let’s say a laborer’s wage here in the US is $30,000/year. 1 Talent would be $600,000. This guy owed 10,000 Talents — which would be 6 billion dollars!
However, the king had mercy on him and forgave him his debt.
The men then went out and found someone who owed him 100 Denarii (about $10,000 using the above calculation). That man he demanded pay him back immediately, and when the man asked for mercy (just as he had from the king), he showed him no mercy. He choked him and then had him bound and thrown in debtor’s prison – a terrible fate from which there was no way out.
Upon hearing about this, the king brings the man in, scolds him and calls him “wicked”, then informs him that he will not be forgiven of his debt after all, and he will also be put in debtor’s prison, presumably for the rest of his life.
The parable ends with these words: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35)
The message is clear: if you have been forgiven by God, there is no excuse for you withholding forgiveness from someone who has wronged you or hurt you in some way. In fact, the most severe warning is given to those who do refuse to forgive others.
So forgiveness is a big deal. A really big deal.
Why do people hesitate to forgive others? I think one of the reasons is because there is a lot of confusion about what forgiveness is and what it isn’t, and what it means to forgive.
One of the biggest misunderstandings about forgiveness — is that forgiving means forgetting: acting like what happened never happened.
That might be easy to do if it is a minor offense — but there are some things, such as major traumas, which people do not know how to forget, even if they wanted to. Furthermore, sometimes the expectation that forgiving means forgetting can be unwise and even dangerous.
For example: When I was pastoring in Hungary, there was a person from the US who wanted to work with us as a missionary — specifically, he wanted to work with youth, because we had a large youth outreach. BUT: he had recently gotten out of jail, and the reason he was in jail was because he had committed sexual assault against a… (you guessed it) youth.
In the US he wasn’t allowed to be around youth but in Hungary those laws didn’t apply. So, we told him: “Sorry, you can’t work with youth because of your past.” His response was: “Hey, I did my time, I repented. If my past sins are forgiven and forgotten by God, then why are you making an issue of it?”
Of course our prerogative was to protect the kids. And it’s just common sense not to put a person with a history of sexual assault against kids, together with a bunch of kids.
The thing is, this person would point to Bible verses like Hebrews 8:12 — where God says: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Or Isaiah 43:25, where God says to Israel, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”
So…isn’t “not remembering” the same as “forgetting”?
Actually, no! It’s not!
When the Bible talks about God “REMEMBERING” something — it doesn’t mean that He forgot about it, and then remembered it, like: “I can’t remember where I put my keys.” Or “I forgot where I put my phone and then I remembered.”
When the Bible talks about God “remembering” something, what it means is that God focused his attention on someone or something in a given moment for a particular purpose.
For example: throughout the Old Testament, it says over and over: God remembered Noah. God remembered Abraham. God remembered Rachel. God remembered the covenant that He had made with Israel.
Does that mean that God was like: “Oh yeah — Abraham! I totally forgot about that guy!” Or “Oh yeah — I totally forgot about that covenant I made with Israel! Thanks for reminding me!” No. It means that in that moment, God turned his focus and attention to those people or that thing.
Notice that even the king in this parable remembered the amount of the debt he had forgiven the servant.
When it says that God remembers our sins no more, it doesn’t mean that He erases them from His memory — what it means that He will never focus on them again. He’ll never hold them over our heads or throw them in our face.
The message of the Gospel is that Jesus took your record or wrongs, and took his record of rights — and he scratched out the names on the top and wrote his name on your record and wrote your name on his record, and then he took the judgment before God that your record deserved.
What that means is that from a legal perspective, God has cleared our record and made it like we never sinned. But that doesn’t mean that He, as an omniscient God, has forgotten about them. One of the best verses about this topic is Isaiah 38:17, “for you have cast all my sins behind your back.” In other words: God has chosen to not look on them any more.
Many people struggle to forgive others, because they have been given this misconception that forgiving someone means that they have to forget about what happened to them and act like it never happened.
Maybe even you have experienced things which can’t be erased from your memory. Please understand that just because you can’t forget that something happened, doesn’t mean that you can’t forgive the person who did it to you.
Furthermore, forgiveness and trust are two separate things. Proverbs 14:15 says: “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.”
A lot of people confuse forgiveness and trust, and some people are unwilling to forgive, because they’re not ready to trust that person again. On the other hand, some people expect that if someone has forgiven them that they should automatically trust them again. That’s not true, in fact in some cases it would be very unwise — like in the case I mentioned above.
So, what is forgiveness then?
Forgiveness is: Not seeking your own revenge.
It means no longer holding onto the thing which happened to you, but giving it over to God.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t seek justice if it’s a legal matter. In fact, in some cases, seeking legal justice is the best and most loving thing you can do, because it might be preventing that person from hurting another person in the way that they hurt you.
But even if you seek legal justice, to forgive someone means you are not vindictive! You let go of the desire to hurt that person back because they hurt you.
Forgiveness means: Not being consumed by the past.
Some people are hesitant to forgive, because they feel like if they forgive that person who hurt them, and they let it go — then that person got away with what they did! — as if by forgiving them, they’re saying that what that person did was okay!
But it’s important that we understand that forgiveness isn’t about exonerating the person who hurt you nor trivializing what they did, or saying it was okay — it’s about you letting go of that thing, and not letting it consume your life, not being angry or resentful towards that person, but trusting God that He has or will deal with it justly in the end.
The promise we have in Jesus is that God hasn’t just swept sins and wrongdoings, evils and injustices under the proverbial rug, but He has dealt with every single one of them fully and justly in the person of Jesus Christ. And it is in the light of that, knowing that it has been dealt with by God in Christ, that we can forgive receive forgiveness joyful and show forgiveness to others.